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Old College houses seminarians, fosters community

| Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tucked away at the edge of campus on a shady hill lies the modest cradle of Notre Dame — Old College.

Old College is the oldest standing building at Notre Dame. Founded by Fr. Edward Sorin, and constructed in 1843, the building is coming up on its 175th anniversary this spring. In the past, Old College housed the Congregation of Holy Cross sisters, brothers and priests, including Fr. Sorin himself. According to the Notre Dame archives, in addition to dorms for students and Holy Cross priests and brothers, Old College once held a classroom, a clothing room, a bakery and a dining hall.

Molly Chen | The Observer

Old College, pictured, hosts a seminarian program that aims to foster community. The building is Notre Dame’s oldest standing structure.

There are not many Old Collegians, as even the building itself is small compared to other residence halls on campus.

“Physically, we could probably only fit about 18 or 20 [people],” sophomore seminarian Keenan Bross said.

But such a small number has fostered a tight-knit community, sophomore seminarian James Mahoney said.

“It’s smaller than dorm life, but we’re a family,” he said. “I expected formation and growth, and I have seen that. I expected a life of preparing yourself for religious life, and I really do see that in Old College. That’s how it’s structured in our community life.”

Bonding naturally takes place as a result of this arrangement, Bross said.

“It really is like a family, which is what we’re preparing for: to live with one another for our whole life … and live in a small, tight-knit community where there’s a lot of love, accountability, taking care of and being aware of one another, nourishing one another and just having fun sometimes,” he said.

Seminarian Daniel Simmons, now in his second year at both Notre Dame and Old College, said he fell in love with the program during his senior year of high school.

“Having a community of 10 guys like we do as [undergraduates] is really nice because they’re all going through the same things,” he said.

With only 10 men in the program, Notre Dame’s Old Collegians are of top merit and are held to high standards. Men who decide to apply to Old College must be accepted into the program separately from Notre Dame or Holy Cross, Bross said. Before they start their undergraduate degrees, Bross said, the men are required to write essays and make two separate visits to Old College: one informal, where prospective seminarians get information about the program and the second formal, consisting of five separate interviews.

Bross said this extensive application process ensures Old College will thrive.

“They really want to know who you are to make sure that they’re bringing in someone who … is going to fit in with the community here,” he said. “It was a lot, but you aren’t trying to be impressive in the way you are in a college application. Sure, I wrote a 12-page essay about myself, but it was just kind of like, ‘This is me.’ I wasn’t trying to be fancy or elegant.”

Once accepted, the life of an undergraduate seminarian is busy with activities such as Mass, morning prayer, holy hour and rosary, Simmons said.

“It’s not the typical college experience,” he said. “For the most part, we’re normal college kids, except we have a really busy schedule.”

Bross said he finds fulfillment from a tight schedule.

“While being very busy, it’s very nourishing,” Bross said. “Everything that’s on our schedule, whether it be Mass or community meals together … it’s all really nourishing. So in a way, yeah, I’m the busiest I’ve ever been … but I love it. It doesn’t feel like work having to do all of the things that we do.”

Aside from the focus on community and inclusion within the seminary, Bross said what makes the program at Old College distinctive is that apart from being required to take 30 philosophy credits and 12 theology credits, Old Collegians can major in any of the undergraduate programs Notre Dame or Holy Cross offers.

“Something beautiful about Holy Cross is … that we understand the world in such a way that all is gift from God and all is truth, and it’s really good to be learning things like physics, it’s really good to be learning things like French,” Bross said. “These all contribute to our understanding of our creator and are things that can be useful in the future for a practical sense. I might teach physics in the future as well as be a Holy Cross priest or brother.”

Simmons, who is majoring in music theory, history and philosophy, said he appreciates having the opportunity to pursue his passions.

“I really did not want to study just theology and philosophy,” he said. “I have other interests than that. We can major in whatever we want to, which is rare for an undergraduate seminary. Normally, kids have to do philosophy and theology as undergrads.”

Mahoney said he has found the entire program to be enriching, and the community plays a big part in this.

“[The community is] a great group of guys around your age under the guidance of some great Holy Cross priests and brothers who want to prepare you for life as a Holy Cross religious, and above all, to help you know where the Lord is calling you,” Mahoney said.

As campus continues expanding, the history of Notre Dame still revolves around Old College, Simmons said.

“I think a lot of times it’s a little forgotten point of campus,” Simmons said. “The Dome and the Basilica tend to be the focal points, when [Old College] was the cradle of the University.”

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About Molly Chen

Molly is a senior anthropology major from Davenport, IA.

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